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Encryption Your Rights Online

EFF Warns TI Not To Harass Calculator Hobbyists 405

Posted by kdawson
from the right-to-tinker dept.
Ponca City, We love you writes "The EFF has warned Texas Instruments not to pursue legal threats against calculator hobbyists who perform modifications to the company's programmable graphing calculators. TI's calculators perform a 'signature check' that allows only approved operating systems to be loaded, but researchers have reverse-engineered signing keys, allowing tinkerers to install custom operating systems and unlock new functionality in the calculators' hardware. In response, TI has unleashed a torrent of demand letters claiming that the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act require the hobbyists to take down commentary about and links to the keys. 'This is not about copyright infringement. This is about running your own software on your own device — a calculator you legally bought,' says EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. 'Yet TI still issued empty legal threats in an attempt to shut down discussion of this legitimate tinkering. Hobbyists are taking their own tools and making them better, in the best tradition of American innovation.'"
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EFF Warns TI Not To Harass Calculator Hobbyists

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  • Nonsense. (Score:5, Funny)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:27PM (#29739455)

    "Hobbyists are taking their own tools and making them better, in the best tradition of American innovation"? I think you misspelled "Pirates and cyber-terrorists are stealing money from TI's hardworking engineers at virtual gunpoint."

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:41PM (#29739559) Journal

      I think you misspelled "Pirates and cyber-terrorists are stealing money from TI's hardworking engineers at virtual gunpoint."

      Now we just need to spice thay message up with a flavorful rap.
      "Don't tinker with your pocket thinker"
      "It's not cool to mod your calc in school"
      etc

      /I know it'll never compare to "don't copy that floppy" but it's a start.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by milkmage (795746)

      whatthefuck?

      If I buy a TI or anything else, how is that STEALING from the people that made it. they asked for a fair price, I paid. what difference does it make to them what I use it for once they have their money.

      does that mean I can't install linux on my computer without being called a cyberterrorist?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Brian Gordon (987471)

      Communist cyber-terrorists. Who besides elite Chinese cyber-commandos would want to destroy American jobs by giving things away for free?

      • by Jurily (900488)

        Communist cyber-terrorists.

        I know you're sarcastic, but what would change if they were communists? Would the principles of freedom and equality not apply to them anymore? How about law?

    • by Cyberia (70947) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:03PM (#29739751)

      Ummm... My opinion is that the hobbyists are just trying to fix some bugs in calculators that the *IAA has been running into. Like for example, when they calculate damages. I think the results look similar to this: 3055 songs pirated * 0.99 per song = $309,234,408,345,345,384.94 in damages...

    • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by athlon02 (201713) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:17PM (#29740275)

      I know you're kidding, but the sad thing is that this is probably just company lawyers trying to justify their jobs. Most TI engineers are likely to not care or love the hacks for the geek factor. TI ought to capitalize on this, not suppress it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hatta (162192) *

        I think this has to do with TI maintaining their monopoly on the educational market. TI calculators are just about the only ones high-school math teachers support. Those teachers need to know that the calculators in their classrooms don't have extra programs that would help a kid cheat on a test. That's easy enough to check with the default TI OS. If the OS has been replaced, all bets are off.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:27PM (#29739457)

    someone show apple this news. :/

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rgo (986711)
      Although they are blocking exploits on every iPhone OS release, I didin't know that Apple was sending C&Ds to jailbrakers.
  • Uh, why just TI? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:29PM (#29739473)

    What about all the similar crap that goes on with other devices? iPhone, XBOX, Wii, NDS, plus loads others?! EFF, why aren't you defending user's rights there?

    • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:5, Informative)

      by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@pa3.14legray.net minus pi> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:32PM (#29739491) Homepage Journal
      How much money have you contributed to the EFF? It's amazing how many people make demands like yours without giving the slightest thought to the expenses involved. In addition, any movement in the right direction is progress. Maybe TI will decide to sue some hobbyists, with the EFF ready to fight for a legal precedent that might finally put a stop to this nonsense.
      • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by conteXXt (249905) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:38PM (#29739543)

        Exactly. If the EFF decides to pursue this to the end, it will more than likely give others pause when trying to stop people from USING their PURCHASED electronic devices.

        They aren't talking about "hacking IP". They are talking about using hardware, think linux on Intel hardware. If Intel required signed bootloaders, do you think the law would protect them too?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Also it is a lot harder make claims about DRM and piracy and such when you are dealing with a calculator. So this legal fight would be easier to win than eg vs Nintendo who can say "if we don't do it we will lose X amount of money." TI can't exactly claim that they are losing money from this because they don't sell any kind of software add ons for their calculator (afaik.)

      • by Hyppy (74366)
        I 3 the EFF. I don't exactly have the cash to donate at the moment, but hopefully I can intern there when I start law school.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ZPWeeks (990417)

          I 3 the EFF.

          Obviously your devotion is higher than mine, I just less than three them.

          • If 3 means "three way" I've gotta ask who the third wheel is, aside from him and the EFF ;) ...

            Meanwhile, I <3 the EFF (minus any kinky action).
      • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by zerocool^ (112121) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:55PM (#29740913) Homepage Journal

        How much money have you contributed to the EFF?

        Over $500 in the last 5 years.

        I have a bumper sticker. But, seriously, this is one of the only groups fighting the good fight.

    • Well, with the iPhone, hacking the phone means you can pirate software... and the XBox. And the Wii. And the Nintendo DS. What software is for sale that you can install on your TI calculator? None.
    • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by geminidomino (614729) * on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:59PM (#29739717) Journal

      Not a bad question, despite the flaming and/or dismissive replies.

      My guess is that they feel like they have a better chance of winning if TI calls their bluff about calculators than if Nintendo did about Wiis, since the "it's only for teh P1Rasee!" argument is pretty much inapplicable.

       

    • How is that bad legal strategy? You don't sue Microsoft over their entire business model, you defend hobbyists from vexatious litigation.

    • They only defend their gaming console of choice. ^^

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by muffen (321442)

      What about all the similar crap that goes on with other devices? iPhone, XBOX, Wii, NDS, plus loads others?! EFF, why aren't you defending user's rights there?

      Hacking or modding any of the consoles you listed will allow you to run copied games. You can see why the companies making the console (and apart from Wii selling the consoles at a loss) doesn't like the modding. However, you can't really claim that you are selling a TI calculator at a loss hoping to make the additional money from software sales, nor

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      What about all the similar crap that goes on with other devices? iPhone, XBOX, Wii, NDS, plus loads others?! EFF, why aren't you defending user's rights there?

      They issued a press release about the calculators.
      They have done way more than that for the iphone and ipod - http://www.eff.org/press/mentions/2009/7/23 [eff.org]
      They supported the "Hacking the Xbox" book by using it as a prize for people who donated to the EFF.

  • RPN (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe they are afraid someone will write a decent RPN code for their calc?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How many people have to buy the overpriced calculators because they are required for an exam.... by required I mean "approved" for use on an exam. Think about it, a calculator costing $100 dollars? What year is it again? If you could program them yourselves suddenly all those "approved" calculators aren't so trustworthy not to solve the exam for students.... although honestly if a calculator can solve the exam then probably the exam isn't testing much...

    • If you could program them yourselves suddenly all those "approved" calculators aren't so trustworthy not to solve the exam for students.... although honestly if a calculator can solve the exam then probably the exam isn't testing much...

      I never really understood why my high school and college math instructors insisted on writing exams that required me to work to a result such that a calculator was required. A well-written exam that tests knowledge of evaluating the arithmetic or calculus properties of a given function would obviate the whole issue of the trustworthiness of a calculator. It would also save students from what I always found to be frustrating, stressful, and easy-to-make data-entry errors.

      The only reason to write tests requi

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pjt33 (739471)

        When I took statistics exams 10 years ago we had a choice of using the exam board's printed tables or our calculators for values of the normal, Student t and chi-squared distributions. It's tricky. In "real life" you're going to use the calculator: it's easier than the table and gives more significant figures. On the other hand, if you used the full accuracy of the value provided by the calculator and then rounded to the specified number of significant figures at the end then sometimes you would differ by 1

  • Streisand Effect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:49PM (#29739621)
    When will companies realize that kicking and screaming about an issue they can't legitimatize will kick them in the testicles? Will T.I. really lose oodles of greenbacks because Joe geek likes to mod his calculator to play Mario or run Linux or watch porn (last item questionable). I highly doubt people hacking their calculators will cut into revenue, if anything it will increase it by bolstering interest in the extended possibilities of their products.
    Technophiles do not like to buy equipment they are legally castrated for modding or learning about the inner-workings.

    When profit is valued more than satisfaction of customers...oh wait..*status quo* *status quo*.

    The answer to the original question lies our government and legal system's ability to cease giving them the fucking pacifier every time they cry wolf.
    • by jonwil (467024)

      The problem here is that once you can replace the OS, it becomes impossible for teachers or exam supervisors to verify that the calculator really HAS been reset or that it really HAS had the special exam feature loaded on it (dont know what its called but it can lock out calculator features).

      Because of this, those who set the exams are going to start dropping the hackable TI calculators from the "approved calculators" list.

      Ergo TI cant sell overpriced calculators based on obsolete technology to schools/coll

  • Thank you EFF for confronting the corporate greed machine where it concerns this electronic frontier. Now we need to find lawyers to confront them on every other issue where citizens and consumers are ripped off and enslaved by corporate monoliths and their shareholders. People come first. Not Corporate interests. Wake up America. We need better elected officials, apparently.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:58PM (#29739697)

    The DMCA is totally ridiculous, but it's the only thing TI can grasp onto in this situation. TI graphing calculators are the de facto standard for many high school and university level math classes. It's easy to verify that one has had the memory erased when it's in an untampered state. Of course there are somewhat sneaky ways to make it look like it's been erased without close inspection, but performing the reset in front of someone made it almost a certainty. If the hack causes schools to move away from such an "untrustworthy" device, TI stands to lose many sales of those overpriced gadgets.

  • Innovation (Score:5, Funny)

    by sincewhen (640526) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:59PM (#29739707)

    in the best tradition of American innovation

    But how can this be innovation if no-one is making any money from it?

  • by Myria (562655) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:01PM (#29739721)

    The numbers they are distributing are the prime factors of the RSA key used by the calculators. The factors were determined by a general number field sieve [wikipedia.org] calculation; this was effective because the keys are only 512 bits long.

    The public key itself - the modulus - might be subject to copyright. However, the prime factors were never copied from TI - they were mathematically determined from the modulus. Attacking them because they distribute numbers mathematically derived from a copyrighted number is new legal territory.

    If numbers derived from a calculation on a copyrightable number are themselves "derivative works" in the copyright sense, it would cause far-reaching problems well beyond calculators. For one thing, it would be illegal to distribute SHA-1 hashes of copyrighted material without permission.

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      "If numbers derived from a calculation on a copyrightable number are themselves "derivative works" in the copyright sense, it would cause far-reaching problems well beyond calculators. For one thing, it would be illegal to distribute SHA-1 hashes of copyrighted material without permission."

      It would be illegal to distribute _anything_. Hell, Maxtor could sue me for everything I create - after all, I'm just modifying the data they originally had on my hard drive.

    • A prime number can represent information which is forbidden to possess.
      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_prime [wikipedia.org]

      This goes back about a decade to the AACS encryption key controversy.

      • by careysb (566113)
        "I can even work out your personality problems to ten decimal places if you think it will help" HHGTTG
        • "I can even work out your personality problems to ten decimal places if you think it will help" HHGTTG

          His name is not something I can know

          - Wintermute.

      • You don't (Score:3, Interesting)

        by langelgjm (860756)

        Not really. The argument about the AACS key was not that the number itself was copyrighted, but rather that the number was the means to circumvent the protection measures controlling access to a copyrighted work. Thus, distribution of the number was a violation of the DMCA.

        I'm not aware of anyone claiming that the number itself was copyrighted. Some people have suggested that line of argument in this case, but if TI really wanted to pursue this in court, they'd have to register the signing key with the copy

    • "The public key itself - the modulus - might be subject to copyright. "

      If it is a *public* key it is meant to be copied.

      In any case a key is just a number, how the heck can you copyright a single number in isolation?

  • by matzahboy (1656011) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:19PM (#29739885)
    Although a Ti-83 can definitely be enhanced by a custom OS, the usefulness of a Ti-83 would greatly decrease for students if custom OS's existed. On many standardized tests, including the SATs and ACTs, the tests specify which calculators are permitted for the test. They have a very specific list, based on which ones they think are not too powerful and would give an unfair advantage to a test taker. All ti-83's are allowed on either test for example. But if the makers of the test knew that people could have ti-83's that had undocumented, unfair functions (such as symbolic algebraic solving as in the ti-89), the test makers would most likely disallow these calculators. Why do you think TI still sells the Ti-83 plus, a calculator created in 1999? Certainly hardware abilities and processor speeds have greatly increased in the last 10 years. The reason is that test makers will not accept calculators with very powerful abilities. They want the student to solve the problem and not the calculator. When browsing calculators at education.ti.com, each calculator has a page called "exam acceptance" (ex. http://education.ti.com/educationportal/sites/US/productDetail/us_ti83p.html?bid=2 [ti.com]). That is because TI sells a large number of its calculators to students. The custom OS's could greatly hurt TI's reputation in the eyes of its biggest supporters: the test makers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Oh come on, is that the best you can come up with? "undocumented, unfair functions (such as symbolic algebraic solving ...)"

      How about a reprogrammed calculator that simply stores answers? Looks like a calculator but is in fact a data retrieval device that holds all your crib notes. I'd say that is clearly a lot more useful to the exam taker in terms of cheating and would certainly be something that would be disallowed in an exam. Just like pulling out your iPhone would get you ejected from most serious

    • The "legal list of allowable calculators" is precisely why the scientific calculator development is pretty much stagnant. I have an HP50G but it is basically a repackaged HP48 with a marginally better screen. But even the 48G was not allowed in the last math class I took that allowed calculators.

      I started using an HP28S in college back in 1988. Back then, many teachers did not know what the calculators were capable of. Of course, I had one professor who did, and in fact LOVED them, and so made the tests

    • by Vellmont (569020)


      On many standardized tests, including the SATs and ACTs, the tests specify which calculators are permitted for the test.

      If this were really truly a threat, then just provide the same calculator for everyone at the test. Calculators aren't that expensive. Ban bringing your own calculator into the test, and collect the calculator at the end of the test. Problem solved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Gross! I was a die hard Casio user in a sea of TIness. I wouldn't have survived the learning curve of a TI calculator during a test.
    • The custom OS's could greatly hurt TI's reputation in the eyes of its biggest supporters: the test makers.

      Sucks to be TI. I'm sure they'll survive.

    • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:08PM (#29740215)

      The custom OS's could greatly hurt TI's reputation in the eyes of its biggest supporters: the test makers.

      Well cry me a river, why is that the problem of hardware hackers who have already PAID for their devices? If we had a law against every activity which might damage somebody else's business model then we would be living in a police state already. If the test makers don't want "powerful calculators" used on their exams then why not simply ban all calculators? If they are interested in testing mathematical knowledge rather than rote arithmetic or button pressing ability then why not simply design the test along those lines in the first place and enforce the suggested ban against electronic assistance? Technology is a moving target which will change over time; attempting to fix it in place by law, for whatever reason, is both destructive and counter-productive.

  • Here are da Keyz (Score:5, Informative)

    by ealbers (553702) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:35PM (#29740397)
    Here are the three keys: TI-83 (Plus): n=82EF4009ED7CAC2A5EE12B5F8E8AD9A0 AB9CC9F4F3E44B7E8BF2D57A2F2BEACE 83424E1CFF0D2A5A7E2E53CB926D61F3 47DFAA4B35B205B5881CEB40B328E58F p=B709D3A0CD2FEC08EAFCCF540D8A100BB38E5E091D646ADB7B14D021096FFCD q=B7207BD184E0B5A0B89832AA68849B29EDFB03FBA2E8917B176504F08A96246CB d=4D0534BA8BB2BFA0740BFB6562E843C7 EC7A58AE351CE11D43438CA239DD9927 6CD125FEBAEE5D2696579FA3A3958FF4FC54C685EAA91723BC8888F292947BA1 e=11 TI-84 (Plus): prp77 factor: 67070508990537181066342707695603050521324524613874331879259881495826493920589 prp78 factor: 186923771200711284770368041572205320486346816476524340240220962467860568859381 n=EF5FEF0B0AB6E22731C17539658B2E91E53A59BF8E00FCC81D05758F26C1791CD35AF6101B1E35 43AC3E78FD8BB8F37FC8FE85601C502EABC9132CEAD4711CB1 p=94489014C63CC9E1E1ADB192DBBDD1F78F90A630DA9C86EFC4CBCA44E5B4D54D q=19D431AF2794229620B884E3750D622D1C74F2E4569DC15486FC8D5A3BCDFE2F5 d=2A3E1B2010F318D9BD7C7E19300980B055A0E2A9554B77E7142E23CDF7C7CA13C233A3D462FDFC 968B1F9CEAF2AC2CF305147992AD9E834192ACEBB517DB9941 e=11
  • Ahem! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pandrijeczko (588093) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:36AM (#29742651)

    in the best tradition of American innovation.

    Sir Frank Whittle (British) and Dr. Hans Von Ohain (German) - indepently invented the jet engine.
    Sir Alexander Fleming (Scottish - discovered penicillin.
    Leonardo da Vinci (Italian) - inventor, artist, mathematician, painter, etc. etc. ... ...
    etc.

    I fully support what the EFF do but innovation is not simply limited to America - can I suggest in future they use the adjective "human", rather than "American", in similar statements? Otherwise, they're just affirming the stereotype that many of we non-US residents have, namely that Americans have no interest in the world outside their own shores.
     

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